05 November, 2015

Throwback Thursday

Delving through some of my old notebooks the other day, I found this one from 2007. Well thumbed and completely filled from the first to last page with records, this was 12 year old me's first attempt at keeping a log of all the birds I could identify - everywhere I went.

I'd get up at half six every morning before school and note all the species that visited the garden, using an extremely sophisticated picture key to indicate where I saw them. Every so often I'd come across something really exciting that I'd never see before - like the above Willow Warbler & Meadow Pipit spotted whilst visiting family in Yorkshire - and they'd get a special 'F' written next to them (the term 'lifer' was still unbeknown to me at this point), as well as a glued-in picture nicked from Google images!

For me, as with pan-species listing, the act of keeping a casual field notebook unintentionally became a chore over time. The very point of a 'field' notebook is that you use it in the field, get it dirty and don't worry about how it looks, yet I'd find myself thinking way too deeply into how I structured it and would become dissatisfied with how the pages looked compared to other birders' notebooks. I'd typically get a quarter of the way through a notebook and then abandon it when a backlog started to form. Blogger and Twitter became an easy way to record a day's worth of wildlife.

For someone who likes to get a bit nostalgic every now and again, notebooks are a great way to re-surface past events. You can flick through months and years worth of sightings and field trips without the need to load up an app. It's just a shame I never got the hang of writing one!

02 November, 2015

Lists, and my fragile relationship with them

I've had a love hate relationship with pan-species listing since I started doing it in late 2012. When I have a lot of free time, I love it. During my gap year I'd spend a lot of time at Stokes Field, taking photos of every insect, plant or fungi I found and then staying up until stupid o'clock identifying them all. Over time I began to learn more about taxonomic groups I'd never usually look at, and I got a little buzz from the satisfying feeling that came with securing the identification of something particularly obscure and tricky.

On the other hand, when I don't have the time or enthusiasm to scratch my head over the front femurs of a Polydrusus weevil, a backlog starts to form that can be hard to keep on top of. I've been experiencing said pan-species lull for a while - not having entered a record since June 2014 according to the PSL website.

9 out of 37 pages worth of lists.

A bout of competitive curiosity last week had me wondering just how extensive my list had become since then. There wasn't an easy way to work it out - a lot of wildlife-related things have happened since June 2014, and I spent several long nights trawling through all my photos and notes from Skokholm, Mull, Eigg and the like; picking out every species I possibly could and adding them to the list.

I hit the 2000 species milestone on Wednesday night with Elachista albidella - a tiny micro moth found in a bog on Mull - and the common hoverfly Eupoedes luniger became number 2001 the next morning; six months after I photographed it in the garden on a sunny spring afternoon.

Elachista albidella

Eupoedes luniger

How long this spell of listing enthusiasm will last, I'm not sure. The PSL recorders' league table is fun, but it doesn't interest me as much as learning about the species itself. As soon as I find myself listing for the sake of climbing up the rankings, I'll know it's probably time to give it a break again.

24 October, 2015

Postcards from Erraid

I woke up early one morning back in June to the sound of absolutely nothing. The wind and rain had battered our corner of western Mull for most of the night, but with the morning came an extreme sense of silence and stillness. I spent a while in the garden repairing the netting from a fruit cage that had been damaged during the night, watched closely by an inquisitive flock of Twite that would inevitably find their way to the redcurrants, netting or no netting!

I checked the weather forecast - which on Mull means looking at how much cloud is on the horizon - whipped up a pack lunch, pumped some air into the bike tyres and left the croft for a day of exploring.

Cycling towards Fionnphort and taking a left turn just before reaching the village had me passing Fidden, a popular family campsite and the last real sign of habitation on the south west corner of the Ross of Mull. From here it was a three mile uphill cycle to the idyllic beach at Knockvologan; a sheltered cove with numerous small islands all connected at low tide by hundreds of metres of white sand. The comparison between Hebridean beaches and those of the Carribean may have become a bit of a cliche, but it seemed more than fitting here.

The small island of Erraid lies a few hundred metres out to sea from Knockvologan, isolated at high tide but connected by a long stretch of beach at low tide. By the time I'd arrived, the sea had only recently receded, and I was greeted by a huge expanse of fresh sand. Apart from the footprints of Eider ducks it was completely untouched, and I made my way across the beach excited by the possibility that I might have Erraid all to myself.

Erraid on the left, mainland on the right 

Sea Mouse-ear

I made landfall on a rocky shoreline and headed inland through eerie woods; each tree warped and twisted into unusual shapes by years of exposure to the elements. The air had once more gone completely silent, and only the seldom 'tick' 'tick' call of a distant Robin reassured me that I hadn't lost my hearing.

Looking back towards the mainland

The coastal woods were carpeted in unusual mosses, lichens and low-growing ferns

Cochylis nana

Actenicerus sjaelandicus

Warped oaks

Whilst only small in size, traversing Erraid's many hills and gullies makes it seem bigger than it actually is. I spent hours walking up and down the island, admiring a fantastic array of heathland flora and fauna before remembering that the island was tidal, and that I'd be stranded until morning if I didn't beat the tide! Not necessarily a bad thing - I'd have happily slept there all night amongst the heather - but I was expected at a local village ceilidh that evening. Hard life.

I headed back in the direction of home, stopping briefly to watch a distant Merlin hunt over the cliffs.

Hedya atropunctana

Epinotia bilunana

Satyr Pug

Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Late night sunset

19 October, 2015

Balcony moths

Yesterday evening epitomised the beauty of autumn for me. It was still and calm with no wind to rattle the wilting leaves. Having been overcast for the majority of the day, a small break in the clouds on the horizon allowed the sun to ever so slightly display itself low in the sky. It pierced through a thick layer of cloud, turning the grey sky overhead into all shades of pink and illuminating the tops of trees with a warm autumnal glow. This whole spectacle lasted no more than a minute, but an orange-red hue remained tinged against the side of buildings and trees long after sunset in a way no camera could capture.

Darkness came without the big temperature drop I'd been expecting, and out went the moth trap for the first time in a few weeks. It was a busy night by balcony standards, with 19 moths of 13 species recorded. A beautiful and pristine Merveille du Jour stole the show - they don't come much better.

1 Merveille du Jour
1 Dusky Thorn
1 Blair's Shoulder-knot
1 Lunar Underwing
1 Barred Sallow
2 Lesser Yellow Underwing
2 Large Yellow Underwing
1 Setaceous Hebrew Character
1 Angle Shades
1 Black Rustic
1 Red-line Quaker
5 Common Marbled Carpet
1 Prays ruficeps

Merveille du Jour

Angle Shades

Black Rustic

Barred Sallow

Common Marbled Carpet

Dusky Thorn

17 October, 2015

Summer's last laugh

Ivy Bee

These autumn-flying pollinators have been utilising every sunny moment to feed on the ivy flowers at the bottom of our garden in recent weeks. Colonies materialise in early September so as to coincide with the flowering season of their favourite plant, and they'll remain on the wing into November. A decade ago the Ivy Bee was a rare sight in the UK - having only been described as a species in 1993 - but nowadays they have become so plentiful that it's hard to find flowering ivy that isn't brimming with these frantic little workers.

Well and truly the last taste of summer - it only gets colder from here.

01 October, 2015


The village we stayed in whilst holidaying in France at the end of August was so beautiful and typically French that I couldn't resist swapping the 90mm macro lens for a wide-angle lens.

Back alleys

A dried up river gorge

Mountain spring

A late night thunderstorm

The macro lens seems to be almost permanently attached to my camera these days, so it was nice to mix it up a bit and attempt some landscape photos. I don't think I've taken a photo of a bird since last winter.

26 September, 2015

Phyllonorcyter comparella

This little beauty emerged from a leaf-mine collected on Poplar the other day - Phyllonorycter comparella.

One of many micros previously considered to be extremely rare and localised in its distribution, the recent surge in interest in micro moth recording has shown this species to be quite common across the UK. The adults of the species will continue to emerge from their distinctive mines over the next couple of weeks, ready to overwinter!

24 September, 2015

You had to be there

Half six in the morning. No one was around. No noise. The sun was just beginning to rise above the trees, cutting through a chilly layer of fog and spilling little shards of light through the canopy.

One of those 'you had to be there' moments at Nower Wood recently. 

The data collection stage of my dissertation is now over, and I handed in my set of keys to the reserve the other day. It's been wonderful having what can only be described as VIP access to Nower Wood - a normally private nature reserve used for educational purposes.

A big thanks must go out to the wardening team for letting me run traps on site, and to all the fantastic people who offered to keep me company through rain, wind and the pitch black.

15 September, 2015

French moths

The other week we took a family holiday to a small village just outside of Narbonne in south-west France. The vast majority of our holidays as a family have been spent in Wales and Cornwall, often during the rainiest weeks of the year, so I was itching to check out the local insect life on the edge of the Mediterranean.

Unfortunately, what with airport security not being too keen on passengers taking large quantities of electrics and high-power batteries with them onto planes, I couldn't take a moth trap with me, and had to make do with an outside porch light for the duration of the trip. However, even without 'specialist' equipment, every night the side of the house attracted a carpet of beautiful and unusual moths. I was in heaven...

Ecleora solieraria

Odice jucunda - the 'Delightful Marbled'

Xerocnephasia rigana

Zebeeba falsalis

Pale-shouldered Cloud

Palpita vitrealis

Porter's Rustic

The Passenger

Yellow Belle

Hoyosia codeti

Hydriris ornatalis

Scarce Bordered Straw

Stemmatophora brunnealis


Pyrausta sanguinalis